Richard Scoble has a good post on Why Facebook, why now? After noting some of the criticisms (and his follow on post about a lot of the apps simply not working in Facebook is right also, but we’ll pretend they do for now), he argues that Facebook is successful over LinkedIn because it’s personal. He also points to the quality of the people and the applications (if they worked).
I think Scoble is right about the social aspect of FB – LinkedIn just didn’t feel right to me – it felt as though it was people looking for jobs, consultants or venture capital. The interesting thing for me is the way that I have built up my FB friends makes it a social/professional network. Most of the people in my network are professional peers who I’m friendly with, so although a lot of the interaction is social e.g. ‘Martin is watching Spongebob Squarepants again’, it occurs within a professional context. The key for me is that it doesn’t feel as though my network is being exploited for commercial reasons, but rather it is facilitating social interaction between people who have similar professional interests. This is a subtle, but important distinction I think.
It’ll be interesting to see how long the FB popularity surge lasts. I wonder if I’ll still be using it in a year’s time? As an experiment I’ve created a posting category for Facebook, I’ll have to notice when I stop using it.
I do wonder that as it increases it will need to offer different levels of access. As I understand it currently I can control what people in different networks see, and some of the things posted as news, but friends see everything. What I would want is for different friends to see different things. For example, I might want to have one core identity so people can find me (ie I don’t want to join multiple times with separate identities), but from this I would want to spawn some sub-identities, eg. Martin Work, and Martin Friends. I can then add people to one of these sub-identities and that is kept separate from the others. Thus in my Martin Work one I can post the status ‘Martin is doing research with current technology’ and in my Martin Friends one my status might read ‘Martin is playing tennis on the Wii.’ Friends in the Martin Work identity would only see those friends I had assigned to it, and not those in any other identity (they would be unaware of other identities in fact). This would get around some of the scalability issues.
Scoble says he has over 2000 friends and these are who’s who in the tech world. He will add you as a friend if you want. Now, I might want to do this, but, since all of his friends would be able to see all of my friends (I have slightly fewer), I would be wary about exposing all of my friends to such a large group. It would feel like a slight betrayal of trust. If I had multiple identities though then ‘Martin experimental’ might well sign up.
The problem is would this kill the essence of Facebook? Like so many sites, popularity brings a lot of awkward questions.